Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Health and the missionary candidate

by the M-DAT staff

Missionaries aren’t sent on their merry way with a pine box in tow anymore. Thanks to modern medicine and its worldwide availability, the life expectancy of a missionary is less affected by life-threatening disease than it used to be. However, your health still plays a significant part of life anywhere, even if you’re not afflicted with such an illness. Will your health limit when, where or whether you should go?

What about health issues not serious enough to keep you from going, but may still affect your ministry strength and flexibility? What if you have asthma or diabetes? What if you’re overweight or blind or bipolar? What about depression, allergies or bad knees? Is it irresponsible to go overseas as a missionary if you aren’t the complete picture of health? Or must your problem just be reasonably treatable?

Mission history would say lack of health doesn’t necessarily eliminate you. Lilias Trotter, for instance, was rejected by the mission board she applied with because her health wasn’t up to their standards.

Though frail in health, Trotter was convinced that God had a place for her in North Africa, even if she didn’t meet the prudent standards of a mission board. So she and a couple of other women set out on their own in 1888 as the Algiers Mission Band. Her health did affect her work in Algiers from time to time. Occasionally her weakness even forced her to take extended leaves from the field.

Yet she accomplished so much, and for so long! Lilias Trotter served in Algeria as a missionary for 38 years, living to be 76 at a time when the average life expectancy was closer to 45. What’s that verse about God showing himself strong through our weakness?

The key point seems to be – know your limitations. How will your health situation affect you? Under what circumstances will it limit you? When will others have to flex and adjust their schedules and ministry to cover for you? Are there things in the job description or environment that will trigger your health problems? Could you serve just as well in another location or in a different type of ministry? Then again, if God sends you there anyway, you wouldn’t be the first to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of the gospel. Each missionary sacrifices some kind of comfort as they go overseas.

While composing these thoughts I talked to two people with knowledge of different sending organizations and how they view the health of their missionary candidates. The first does not have a written policy, but it does require a full physical and a doctor’s note saying, essentially, that you will be able to perform all the duties of your job. The second agency appears to carry out a fairly meticulous evaluation of your physical and emotional health as you plan to go and then regularly on home leaves. If there is a problem, the sending agency does everything in its power to fix it and get you back on the field. Sending agencies desire for you to be there as much as you do, but they also want to be responsible in the stewardship of their personnel.

It is impossible to predict every health issue you’ll encounter overseas. Hudson Taylor’s health failed him after his first wife died. An acquaintance of mine suffered terrible mold allergies after moving to Bulgaria. Know your limitations. Know your options – options of treatments and medicines, options of facilities, options of seasonal time frames. You might be called on to overcome those limitations as Lilias Trotter did. Or as the motto “planning to go, willing to stay” leaves open, your involvement may be from this side, helping to send others.

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